E(levator), Students and Friends by ABC Project

Ambitious work with three overlapping experiences.

Run: August 29-September 5, 2017
Experienced: August 29, 2017
Location: 939 Studio
Address: 939 Maple Ave, Los Angeles CA, 90015
Price: Students - $43.75, Friends - $43.75, E(levator) - $65
Audience Size: Students - 12, Friends - 4, E(levator) - 2
Runtime: Students - 45 minutes, Friends - 35 minutes, E(levator) - 55 minutes
More Information: ABC Project Site, ABC Project on Facebook, Annie Lesser on Twitter, Annie Lesser on Instagram

ABC Project

This is an ambitious and experimental work, literally days after D(istillery), that consists of three different pieces named E(levator), Students, and Friends. The three shows all overlap each other slightly and were performed 3 times a night each. The unusual logistics for these three shows include a different starting location, starting time, audience size, and show length. Hardcore Annie Lesser fans tried to get a ticket to experience all three shows in the same night but only 6 people per night could actually do that since E(levator) had an audience size of 2.

Here’s a breakdown of the different shows starting from the largest audience size to smallest:

Students: A group of 12 students are meeting up for some extra credit. The teacher explains that the group we are about to see are showcasing their artwork as part of their art-therapy sessions. Our job is to be respectful, tour the gallery, and converse with the patients about their art. We had to make sure to not have any belts, shoelaces, or sharp objects on our person before entering the gallery.

Inside there we are free to converse with the artists about their work as we try and figure out why they are in therapy based on our interaction. I don’t have much psychology knowledge or experience but it was entertaining having free-form conversations with interesting people about the art. Each individual had a distinct personality, warts and all, and there was a good amount of time to spend as little or as much time as you wanted with each of them.

At one point a verbal argument between the artists breaks out and some character flaws are revealed in the heat of the moment. Things start to get a little chaotic and one individual is forcibly ejected from the gallery and we are told we should leave as well.

Students was engaging and very organic. The structure forced us to be active participants to extract as much as we can from the stories and lives of each character. It’s hard to tell how much of this show is improvised, seemingly much of it, but there was definitely a lot of backstory for each character that came through.

Friends: A letter from a friend asks to meet up to say goodbye before he gets the help he needs. 4 of us meet at the meeting point. It might be easy to mistaken another participant for the friend in need but some of us knew each other already. The show starts when a guy and a girl start approaching us. They appear to be in a relationship and are in a heated discussion. The guy stops and greets us individually and thanks us for coming. The girl he is with just ignores us. It’s obvious she is not happy about his decision.

As we start walking along the street with the couple there are some hints that things are not what they seem. There are some subtle implications about our role in the relationship between these two and as the show progresses a few revelations are made by the audience at different times. The slow burn of the situation is intriguing and works perfectly. The end I experienced was a bit lackluster and ambiguous but otherwise this was a fun show.

Elevator: Two audience members are to report for work to be an orderly at the Maple Institute. This one, as you might guess, takes place mostly in an elevator. The service elevator at Think Tank Gallery has been used in other immersive theater pieces (I have fond memories of my first Alone Experience starting in this elevator) but was never used as the centerpiece for a show.

This show revolves around two participants being trained by an orderly to intake patients into the institute. He gives us a clipboard with some questions to ask to help assess the patient’s mental state of mind. The interaction here was very natural and occasionally our trainer would take over to ask some questions. It becomes apparent, as time goes on, at least one of the patient’s psychological maladies.

Overlap: The overlap between the shows is interesting and probably confusing if you didn’t experience all shows.

Students overlapped with Friends toward the end of Friends when the Professor of the students leaves to make a phone call. She steps outside and the friends interact with her for a bit. Students overlapped with Elevator when the orderlies in training welcome the students into the gallery at the beginning of Students. It also overlaps with Elevator when the orderlies come in to try and deal with a commotion that occurs in the gallery. Elevator overlapped with Friends with the patient being taken into the institute. He starts as one of the characters in Friends and ends up as one of the characters in Elevator.

Thoughts: Overall I enjoyed my time through the three different shows but the cost to see them was steep. E(levator), Students and Friends would probably have benefitted from a discounted price to experience all shows. Also the varying show sizes made it awkward and hard to see more than one in the same night. This felt like an interesting experiment and I’m glad Annie Lesser continues to think outside of the box.